WHEN Fergus Pringle, along with his wife and infant son, emerged off a flight from South Africa to Scotland back in October 2003, he could have had no idea that he would still be here sixteen years later and about to embark on a new adventure as head coach in the new part-time professional Super6 league which is being launched this weekend.
In fact, coaching in Super6 was highly improbably just ten months ago, with each team having already appointed their man to lead the franchises through this inaugural season.
But then a phone-call from Stevie Lawrie changed everything. His old Edinburgh team-mate had been appointed to the Watsonians job back in December last year, but a few months later was offered a role working with the capital pro team forwards under Richard Cockerill. It was an offer too good to refuse, Lawriewas desperate to make sure the Myreside men would not be left in the lurch.
“He was just sounding me out, really,” recalls Pringle. “I have to say, I was tempted straight away. How often do you get to work as a full-time coach with your own team, working with some of the best young players in the country?
“I spoke to my wife and family about it, and to Eamon John – my boss at East Lothian council – because it is a big step to go from a job as a development officer, where I was very happy and settled, into something completely new and different. In the end, we all agreed that it was too good an opportunity to turn down.”
Pringle played a season in the second-row for Hawick immediately after landing in Scotland, where he caught the eye of then Edinburgh head coach Frank Hadden, who offered him a full-time contract in the capital, where he played 49 games during four full seasons before getting involved at Boroughmuir initially as an assistant coach.
“I thenwent straight from playing to head coach at Boroughmuir and I probably learnt the hard way,” he recalls. “I made a lot of mistakes, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. We won the league but then a lot of players left the club and it was a period of transition.”
In 2013-14, Pringle took a break from coaching senior rugby for a year, before dipping his toe back in with two enjoyable seasons as a forwards coach at Currie, had another year out, and then a call from Rob Moffat – who he had worked under at Edinburgh – offered an exciting left-field opportunity.
“He was helping coach the Romanian national team with Lynn Howells, so he got in touch to ask if I would help with their Under-20s, so I spent a season jetting over there and back to do that,” he explains.
It is a fairly eclectic rugby CV, which Pringle and Watsonians hope will provide a solid basis for this Super6 launch season.
“I’ve been working away, doing my level four coaching certificate, trying to improve my coaching and working full-time in East Lothian for the last ten years – where I’ve really enjoyed helping young kids come through the system – so when this opportunity came up, I thought I was a good fit,” concludes Pringle.
“I’ve been here 16 years. When we came over, my son was 15 months old and my daughter was born in Borders General Hospital, so they don’t know anything else. We just found it was the right place for us. I’ve worked with a lot of Scottish players – kids coming through the schools – so I have a vested interest to see the game in this country do well.
Getting the job done
“It’s actually great to come into a set-up where it has been going well, and the coach before has done such a good job,” he continues, turning his attention to the specific challenge which lies ahead at Myreside.
“Stevie has laid some very good foundations, so we’ll just try to build on that and add our own stamp. There was a few guys who had agreed contracts before I arrived, but I’d say 85 to 90 percent of the squad I had to go out and find, so it was a big learning curve for me, as it was for all of the coaches.
“It’s early days. I think the standard has got to get better. Ultimately, that’s what it is for. I can’t compare to the Premiership last year because I wasn’t involved, so all I can say is that we want good, hard, tough, competitive games – which are entertaining so that people want to come and watch.”
It has been suggested that the Super6 could lack a competitive edge because of the developmental focus of the league, but Pringle insists that the two issues are not mutually exclusive.
“The closer you get to the professional game, the more it is about winning – these boys are not learning anything if they are not learning how to win,” he said.
“So, the coaches want to win, and the players want to win, but you’ve got to have a bigger picture in terms of trying to develop the infrastructure of the whole club.
“Stevie ran a very good rugby programme last year, but now it is about building extra bits onto that such as strength and conditioning, and how we monitor players. So, it is about trying to make it a more professional environment one step at a time.”